Did you ever see a Maasai man, dance to roots reggae music?
As part of the week-long celebration of Maasai culture organised by Insightshare, with support from the Pitt Rivers Museum, there was an evening of music. It was an honour for me to be invited to play vinyl there, as our mainly red-clothed visitors stepped into the venue. When we talk of roots reggae, it is not only of the songs of life – of the suffering and the sweetness – but also of those that recognise and celebrate our African ancestry. So it was fitting to have this genre of music played for our Nilotic guests, especially when we remember that Saturday was the birthday of Dennis Brown, one of the great figures of reggae music. I salute Nick Lunch, cultural activist and founder of Insightshare, for the invitation to play for the legendary people of the East African savannah. Giving thanks also to Wayne Fallon for providing the sound system and to Danny Prince, who followed me, playing a selection of ''inter-galactic beats.'' It was good to see Yannick, the Maasai spokesman: smiling, dancing to Prince Far-I and Luciano.
Did you ever sit between two Maasai men, talking of their culture and history?
After finishing my set, I stepped outside for a little while, talking with Conroy Harris, the youth and mental health stalwart, and with the aforementioned Nick Lunch aka Baba Irie. Stepping back in, I squeezed myself between two members of the Maa-speaking people; one of whom – Lemaron Ole Parit – is a liabon, a spiritual figure amongst the Maasai: the other was Yannick, the spokesman who danced. One of the reasons the Maasai delegation is here is to highlight their struggle with the taking of their land, mainly due to tourism, but also, ironically, conservation. The former reminds me of Jamaica, where the governments persecuted Rasta, yet used us as a tourism aid, centred around Bob Marley and reggae music. The Kenyan and Tanzanian governments continue to occupy and utilise – in conjunction with foreign concerns - Massai land, yet use them as a promotional tool. I asked Yannick how does the taking of their ancestral land affect the choice of site for orpul - the forest retreat of the warriors – the search for medicinal herbs and the paramount ceremonies that take place, under the sacred fig trees? As a little counteraction to the sadness expressed, it was lovely to see the delight on Yannick's face, at my knowledge of his culture! A workshop on the Maasai was one of the first I delivered, when I set up African School ten years ago.
Did you ever walk through Oxford, beside and in front of, representatives from the Maasai?
Upon being asked if it's safe to walk back, I immediately offered to walk them back to where they were staying; three of the delegates remained, while I strolled with the other four. Up Hythe Bridge Street, into and along Walton Street, to the house of destination, in Great Clarendon Street. I walked amongst the group, wrapped in their red and blue plaid, called shuka, as we passed groups of exuberant students and their quieter peers and elders. Amongst other things, I spoke with Yannick about the rain-making ceremony and of my Ghanaian and Caribbean ancestry. With another one of the group, whose name I do not recall, we spoke briefly of African School. I hope I get the chance to walk with them, in the streets of Nairobi: to sit around the evening fire, where they gather in the Serengeti.
I give thanks, eternal thanks, to Nick Lunch and the Jam Factory, for bringing a little piece of the African savannah to a venue in a European city. I pray that the Maasai receive all that they need, in their fight to hold onto what is theirs; watched over by 'Ol Donyo Lengai,' their scared mountain, where they go to pray to God, who they call Ngai.